You know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. A video clip must be worth a magnitude more then, since it’s just a bunch of sequential pictures.
A vehicle dashboard camera (henceforth referred to as a dash cam) allows you to have indisputable recorded proof of what events occurred around your vehicle should you ever get into an accident. It could save you your insurance deductible and a potential increase in insurance coverage costs. Even if you have accident forgiveness, you want to make sure you save that for an accident where you’re actually at fault.
Both times I have been in a car accident where the other party was at fault, they lied through their teeth. In both cases they lied to the insurance company, and in one they lied to the police. My first accident, the officer believed the other driver’s story of events at first and the only thing that saved me was a witness who circled back around. Since then I vowed to protect myself better and not count on a good Samaritan. After that I installed a dash cam in my car and I’ve been driving around for years with it quietly recording video and audio.
A dash cam is truly one of those things that everyone should have, but people don’t tend to get one until after they’ve had an incident where it would have been valuable. In some countries like Russia dash cams are incredibly common, but in many countries like the US they are nearly non-existent. I have never met anyone else in real life that has a dash cam, other than a couple people I have convinced to get one.
A few weeks ago my dash cam finally proved its value. I was driving on the highway the day after a snowstorm and a sheet of ice came off another driver’s roof as they merged in front of me, striking my vehicle. Check this out:
I actually didn’t expect there to be any damage. The other driver didn’t stop, and I’m not even sure they noticed the ice coming off their car. But just to cover all of my bases I caught up to the car and read the license plate off so the audio would pick it up. It was a bright day and I wasn’t sure if all the light reflecting from the snow would wash out the video. This ended up being a good decision, because when I stopped later I realized there was indeed some damage to my car, and the license plate wasn’t easily discernible from the video.
My turn signal, daytime running light, and front grille were all damaged from the ice. The next day I found out it had cracked my washer fluid tank as well when it drained completely empty. The parts alone would be over $800.
I tried to file a report with the State Highway Patrol and they didn’t care, even though I had the video. I just kept getting bounced around between “that’s not our jurisdiction” and “we can’t do anything unless we witnessed it.”
Luckily I had my trusty video evidence. So I went right to my insurance company and they found the guy based on the license plate and vehicle match. He tried his best to deny it.
Lie #1 was that his car was garaged all the time so the snow couldn’t have come from his car. Lie #2 was that his wife was driving at the time (I looked over and it was definitely a dude). The first lie was easily disproved by my footage and the second lie was irrelevant to me; as best I can tell maybe the wife had less claim history so they wanted the mark on her record instead of his.
After a week of this guy painfully slowly providing the required information to his insurance they admitted fault and are paying out to fix my vehicle. My car is currently being repaired by a shop of my choice and they’re paying for a rental car during the process.
The opportunity cost of NOT having a dash cam
If I didn’t have the footage I would have been out my $1,000 deductible for a comprehensive coverage claim to have a shop do the work. Or been out over $800 in parts, plus several hours of my time to have done the work myself. And the whole time I would have been ridiculously pissed that someone damaged my car, got away without paying, and I had to pay out of pocket to fix it.
I spent $75 on my dash cam and memory card several years ago, so it just paid for itself more than 10 times over.
A dash cam is essentially “insurance for your insurance.” Imagine someone backs into you and then says you rear ended them — it’s your word against theirs, and the rear driver will almost always be deemed at fault in this scenario. Saving your deductible is one thing, but keeping an at fault claim off your record could be worth even more.
If you own a car, you are going to get into some sort of accident eventually, and unfortunately many people out there these days are dishonest. So protect your finances preemptively and get yourself a dash cam.
Must-have features to consider when purchasing a dash cam
Don’t just head to Amazon and grab the first thing that you see. While there’s many reliable dash cams out there, there is also a lot of junk. I did a bit of research back when I was figuring out what to buy, and there are two big features to absolutely ensure that you get.
Must-have #1: A capacitor, not a battery
This is an important factor for long-term reliability of the dash cam. Lithium-ion batteries do not handle high heat well. After a summer or two of being exposed to the heat inside your car the battery will likely fail and swell due to the heat expanding the gas byproducts of the chemical reactions occurring in the battery.
Capacitors on the other hand store static charge, so they are much better suited to long-term reliability in a fluctuating temperature environment.
Any serious or reputable dash cam manufacturer uses a capacitor in their products, because the ones with Li-ion batteries are essentially disposable after a year or two. So spend your money on the product that will last.
Must-have #2: A high endurance microSD card
Writing and erasing data are the harshest actions on storage devices. And recording video causes a lot of writing and erasing. A 64 GB storage device can hold about 6–8 hours of 1080p footage recorded at 30 frames per second. Higher resolution cameras obviously create larger files. There’s many variables here, but suffice it to say, a microSD card in a dash cam will be completely filling up its storage and re-writing the old footage quite frequently.
“High endurance” microSD cards are designed with more resilient memory cells rated for far more read/write cycles than standard SD cards. They also have wear-leveling algorithms which essentially track the use of the storage sectors and distribute the read/write operations evenly across them which prolongs its life.
High endurance microSD cards are a little bit more expensive, but over the long run you will save money by not having to replace several failed standard microSD cards. Additionally, the last thing you want to do when you need to pull footage from the camera is find out that your storage device was corrupted and there’s no footage of the event.
I recommend the Samsung PRO Endurance microSD cards. Sandisk is another popular high endurance microSD manufacturer, however users seem to report more premature failures of those cards compared to the Samsung brand.
Some recommended dash cams at various price points
Once you’ve filtered exclusively to capacitor-based dash cams, various additional features come down to what you’re willing to spend. Factors like video resolution, whether it is front-facing only or a dual-cam front and rear setup, and brand name recognition will all influence price points.
Cheapest decent dash cam: Blueskysea B1W 1080p front-facing camera, ~$55
This is what I’ve been running for the past 3.5 years, and it’s still the cheapest offering with a capacitor. So far it has been pretty reliable for me. It records in 1080p at 30 FPS, and it has Wi-Fi connection so you can transfer videos to your phone without removing the microSD card from the camera. Note that the maximum supported microSD card is 64 GB. Hands down, the best budget-friendly option.
Good value 4k dash cam: Rexing V1 4k front-facing camera, ~$100
This is a good option for a higher resolution dash cam and I have heard good things about this brand. 4k will do a better job picking up license plates which are sometimes difficult to read on a 1080p camera like the B1W in many situations. Also has a capacitor and Wi-Fi connection.
Best value dual-cam option: Viofo A129 Plus Duo, ~$155
If you want to record what’s going on behind you as well, then a dual dash cam makes that convenient. Viofo is a pretty respected brand in the dash cam world, and this is the most highly recommended entry-level dual cam setup on dash cam forums. This has a 2k 60 FPS front camera, and a 1080p 30 fps rear camera.
Personally I’m not hugely sold on the necessity of a rear camera. Even if you get rear-ended, a front camera will show you minding your own business before the impact. So I think one of the few cases where a rear camera is necessary, would be if someone rear-ends you, then makes a U-turn to flee. Or for a parking lot mishap.
The front dash cam should cover the vast majority of events, so it’s up to the individual buyer to determine if the marginal benefit of the rear camera is worth the extra cost to them. Now that I’ve got more disposable income than when I bought my dash cam several years ago, I’d probably go with this model if mine stopped working just for the extra peace of mind.
To hardwire or not to hardwire…
There are two methods to power a dash cam. The first and most simple is to connect it to the 12V DC “cigarette lighter” power outlet, which will power it whenever the car is running.
The second is to hardwire it into your car’s fuse box. This is a bit more challenging but will allow the camera to receive power even if the car is off. Many dash cams come with a “parking mode” where if the G-force sensor in the camera detects an impact, it will turn on and record a clip. Or you could even have it record 24/7 if you wanted.
It’s up to you to determine the likelihood of parking lot mishaps where you tend to park your vehicle, and then whether you’re able to hardwire it yourself or if you’re willing to pay someone to do it. Personally I think the vast majority of people should be able to figure it out while following along with a YouTube video.
Keep in mind that even if you don’t hardwire your dash cam, you’re still getting quite a big benefit from having it running when you’re driving your car, which is when most accidents will occur. So even if hardwiring it sounds too difficult and you’re just going power it using the 12V DC plug, it’s still super worthwhile to get a dash cam.
Reputable dash cam manufacturers sell specific hardwire kits for their specific camera models. Just make sure the camera comes with a low-voltage cutoff, which will prevent it from draining your car’s battery too low.
How to install a dash cam
Installation is pretty easy. The “wedge” shaped cameras stick to the top of your windshield near the center, and the “pod” shaped cameras stick behind your rearview mirror so they’re hidden from your field of view. You can then run the cable up to the headliner and begin stuffing it behind the trim pieces, following it around the side and down until you reach your power source.
Really the best method is to just head to YouTube and search for a dash cam installation video for your particular vehicle. I was done with mine in 25 minutes.
Just make sure once it’s in place you verify that the camera isn’t pointed at the sky. You can manually adjust the lens angle on most of them.
Maintaining your dash cam
Once your dash cam is installed and plugged in, it’s generally pretty set-and-forget. However you should make a habit of connecting to it on the included app every now and then and verifying that it’s recording videos and the timestamp is correct.
Conclusion: get a dash cam before you wish you had gotten one!
Now that you’ve read my whole article, you’ll really feel quite silly if you pass up on getting a dash cam and then have an incident where it would have come in handy to indisputably prove that you were not at fault in an accident. As personal experience has shown to me more than once, not everybody is honest and plenty of people will lie after getting into an accident to try and prevent their premiums from going up.
For the equivalent cost of a month or two of your car insurance payment, buying a dash cam for additional protection simply makes sense. In a “he said, she said” situation it could save you your deductible and a potential increase in insurance premiums. It’s not if you get into a car accident, but when, so take a step to preemptively protect your financial interests by investing in a dash cam.